If you’re a teen right now, you are probably making (or are about to make) some key decisions in areas like education, employment and relationships. While these decisions are important, it can often be easy to overlook one other important area of decision- the area of political decisions.
You see, the teen years represent a time when people first start to make many important choices regarding their relationship to the government of their country. Having some good Biblical guidelines to make these kinds of choices can really be helpful and not surprisingly, the Bible has much to say about Christians and their relationship to government.
So this time around we’ll look at some Biblical principles that should guide a Christian’s relationship to the government and we’ll also spend some time looking at the difficult topic of war.
God And Government
“Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God” (Romans 13:1 NIV).
If you know a little bit about history then you know that there have been many different types of governments throughout the centuries. Governmental forms such as monarchies, dictatorships and democracies are just a few examples of the different types of governments that have existed over the years.
So what is God’s relationship to human government? Well, as we see in the Scripture above, the Bible teaches that no government exists anywhere that God has not put into place. This also suggests that there is an accountability that exists between God and whatever government He has allowed to come into existence. That accountability works like this: every citizen is subject to the governing authorities while those governing authorities themselves are subject to God who has given them that authority.
Jesus Himself illustrated this point in a conversation that He had with the Roman governor Pontius Pilate just prior to His crucifixion. John 19:6-11 records the conversation for us:
“As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw (Jesus), they shouted, ‘Crucify! Crucify!’ But Pilate answered, ‘You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him.’ The Jews insisted, ‘We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.’
When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid, and he went back inside the palace. ‘Where do you come from?’ he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer. ‘Do you refuse to speak to me?’ Pilate said. ‘Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?’
Jesus answered, ‘You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin’ (NIV emphasis added).
Pilate may not have been willing to accept that he was subject to God’s authority but as Jesus reminded him, he was still subject to that authority whether he accepted it or not.
Biblical Principles Relating To A Christian’s Relationship With Government
“Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong.
Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.
Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience” (Romans 13:2-5 NIV).
As we said earlier, this passage points out that God has established all governmental authority. This means that people who oppose this authority actually place themselves in opposition to God. So as a general rule, Christians are responsible to obey the laws of the nation in which they live. The reasoning behind this principle goes like this: when we obey the law, we are obeying God indirectly for it is God who gives each government the power to make the law in the first place.
The Apostle Peter gives us some additional insights as he discusses this subject in 1 Peter 2:13-17:
“Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.
Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king” (NIV).
Now at this point some of you may be saying, “Hey, wait a minute -what about tyrants and dictators? What about governments run by people like Adolph Hitler- are you saying that God approves of that!?” Well, let’s consider that question- what about governments that are unjust?
What About Tyrannical Governments?
To answer this question, the great 17th century commentator Matthew Henry makes a pretty good observation. Henry says, “God… hath appointed the ordinance of magistracy, so that all civil power is derived from him… The usurpation (or wrongful exercise) of power and the abuse of power are not of God, for he is not the author of sin; but the power itself is.” (1)
(1) Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: New Modern Edition, Electronic Database. © 1991 by Hendrickson Publishers, Inc